Saints WO Michael Thomas was the sixth receiver selected (second round, 47th selection overall) in the 2016 NFL draft. Coming out of Ohio State, he didn’t get much hype; he went in the second round after guys like Baylor’s Corey Coleman (1/15, Browns) and Mississippi’s Laquon Treadwell (1/23, Vikings).
Last Sunday, Thomas set the NFL record for most receptions in a single season, surpassing Indianapolis’ Marvin Harrison, who had 143 in 2002. Thomas has 145. And there’s still one game left.
How did Thomas go from a mid-level prospect to arguably the best receiver in the game? The short answer: skill, mental performance and focus.
Thomas has elite receiving skill: Obviously, Thomas is an elite athlete, but he’s a better football player. At six-foot-three and 212 pounds, he has good size, but his measurables at the NFL level are average to above-average. At the combine, his 40 time was 4.57; Notre Dame’s Will Fuller, for example — taken by the Texans 26 spots before Thomas — ran a 4.32.
Skill, more than athleticism, is what makes Thomas great.
“My hands,” said Thomas when asked what sets him apart. “The way I know how to create separation.”
“[It’s] attention to detail,” said Keyshawn Johnson who, in addition to being a Pro-Bowl receiver in the 90s, is also Thomas’s uncle. “When you’re running the right routes and you’re doing everything the right way, you’ll be difficult to guard.”
Thomas has clearly committed himself to doing everything the right way. It’s paid off in high-level skills that allow him to produce at a record-setting pace. He’s not a track star. He’s a receiver.
Thomas is a strong mental performer: The most obvious component of Thomas’ mental game is his unwavering belief in himself.
“I just love his mindset,” says his quarterback, Drew Brees. “He is going to look you dead in the eye and say, ‘I am going to get open.’ And you believe him.”
Thomas is clearly confident –- and, just as important, he has reason to be. His intense focus on improvement gives him an edge. He knows the work he puts in and his own desire to be great, so he knows he’ll win his matchups.
“I don’t care who’s in front of me,” says Thomas. “I just gotta make my plays and play my game.”
Thomas is laser-focused on improvement: This point could fall under the umbrella of mental performance, but it’s worth noting because of its importance: Thomas is laser-focused on improvement. It shows up, for instance, in practice.
“He’s an extremely hard practice player,” said Saints head coach Sean Payton.
“Here’s the thing: If you saw the guy work and you saw the guy prepare, it’s just what we see every day in practice, honestly,” Brees said.
The best players practice the hardest.
It’s also worth noting that Thomas has seemingly eliminated distractions from his processes. He got a big contract before this season; other than that, you’ve probably never read about anything he’s done off the field. It’s because he’s so focused toward what he does on it.
Skill and mental performance cause greatness: I help athletes maximize their mental performance. It’s a needed component of elite athletic performance, but high-level skill is crucial, too. That’s why I partner with DeAundre Muhammad at Traction Athletic Performance. Dre (who played at Indiana University and with the Raiders) is a nationally recognized wide receiver consultant who helps athletes with skill development to reach next-level performance.
The bottom line: taken together, elite skill and mental performance create greatness. As his 145 receptions clearly show, Thomas has both.
This week’s post is the latest in a series of guest columns by Donovan Martin, who heads Ft. Wayne, Ind.-based Donovan Mental Performance. Donovan and his team are doing exciting things to help athletes bring their very best to the court, diamond or gridiron. We introduced Donovan in November on our Friday Wrap, and he’s addressed topics like the mental side of being a kicker, how two great teams prepare for a showdown, why some teams always win and others always lose and the pros and cons of perfectionism in this space.